Letter to the new (infertile) kid on the block

Dear newbie,

Whether you know me personally or not, I was you. I was at the beginning of this supremely shitty journey once.

A brief aside: I kinda hate the word journey. It’s both overused and trite, particularly in the context of infertility. It implies a destination ahead. And many days, you’ll have one. A baby in your sights. Some days, though, that destination may need to be relief from the physical and emotional pain you’re likely to experience. I’m truly sorry that you’ll feel this hurt.

When I was where you are on this road (that word somehow feels a bit more natural to me), I had few resources to talk me through what was to come. That was lonely, and it sucked. I hope that you’re able to take an exit ramp long before where I am now, but no matter where you depart, know that you’re never alone. Infertility is probably going be the most alienating thing you ever experience. It has been even more so than the chronic depression I’ve struggled with, although I’ve found they go hand in hand for me.

If you’re reading this, then you’ve likely found that within a few Google searches you can find others online like you. I urge you to use the web wisely, though. Seek out forums, communities and blogs that can be a source of strength for you. Just read, or share your own experience. Step away when the web becomes alarmist. Reading others experiences can be helpful, but do your best not to let these stories trigger your own fears. You’ll have created plenty in your own brain. Don’t fuel them. Remember that every woman is different and none of us have all the answers. That thought alone will probably land somewhere between comforting and frightening, and that’s okay.

When you’re ready, share your thoughts and feelings with someone. That person can be your partner, but it doesn’t have to be. Not every partner will be able to relate to the myriad of thoughts and feelings you’re having. That’s okay, too. They may grieve losses and manage anxieties differently than you do. It can make you crazy, but give them space to process infertility in their own way. It’s their struggle, too. Instead, or in addition to, seek out a therapist, a family member, a friend — whom ever you can feel comfortable and safe with. Resolve offers many peer-led support groups across many cities. When you find one, I urge you to give it a try. Talking aloud does help you feel less lonely. The strength of the women I’ve met in my local group can prop up the world. I’m grateful I can share in that.

This road may get scary. I’m sorry for that, too. I hope that those periods of fear are brief for you. If you do feel yourself wearing a little too thin, though, put yourself first. Advocate for yourself with your doctor. Ask the questions. Sometimes a little more information or a less jargony explanation can help ease your fears. Remember that the end goal of a baby isn’t the only thing that matters. You do, too. You’re here now, and this road is hard.

Sometimes you will feel afraid and empty, but you’re not a failure. What your body can or cannot do doesn’t determine your worth. I’ve spent far too many sleepless nights and dazed commutes focusing on how my body has failed me. Those thoughts only multiplied my frustration and left me drained of hope. Never once were they productive. Remember to be kind to yourself.

I don’t yet have a happy ending to my story to share with you. You’ll hear a lot of stories about how your friend’s cousin’s stepsister-in-law got pregnant after she stopped trying and relaxed. Each one will probably make you want to scream and curse. That’s okay. I hate hearing them, too. The majority of people who offer these stories have no idea what you’re navigating right now. They just want to offer their support. If someone who loves you asks if they can do anything for you, tell them what you need. Or at least ask for homemade brownies during your next two week wait. Those never hurt.

You can do this. So can I.

Your fellow infertile sister,

Ashley

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Photo by David Whittaker via Pexels

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#TheStruggleIsReal

One week down. 

As someone who struggles with depression, I often have to focus on how far removed I am from my trigger incident to move forward. It’s a coping mechanism I’ve had in place since I was a teenager to remind me that I can move forward.

I work for a large company where we have our own campus. During the workday I spent 99 percent of my time in one building. In the last week I’ve encountered seven new pregnant women. This is in addition to the handful I’d already seen in the cafe or milling about in the hallways. I can’t escape them as I’m slowing expelling my hopes and dreams onto a maxi pad. I’ve heard all of the “it’s in the water” jokes. Trust me, it’s not.

Sorry if that maxi pad bit was too morbid. I’m feeling a touch filter-less.

Emotionally I’m all over the place. My mood turns on a dime. I remind myself that it’s okay to be upset; not only am I grieving another loss, but I’m also facing an enormous decision about what comes next. I spend a lot of time feeling lost. A lot of time feeling jealous of every mom or dad who posted a first day of school photo on Facebook or Instagram. For as much as I want to believe I’ll make that same post someday, the reality is that I may not. And someday isn’t now. Or tomorrow. Or even next year.

I’ve had so much support in the last week that I should be bursting with gratitude. And I am. I am incredibly grateful for the well wishes and the amen, sistas. You all completely understand these feelings. This insane emotional rollercoaster that you both desperately want to get off and are too afraid to leave behind.

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Settling into failure

A few days have passed since we officially found out that our first IVF cycle was unsuccessful. My anger at the situation has tapered, although still rears its head in flashes. I’ve since settled into disappointment and a general feeling of being lost. Much of my last three-plus years has left me in a similar place, so, unfortunately its rather familiar. It’s hard to make sense of that sometimes — that this is my new normal — but I’ve begrudgingly accepted it.

There’s not much I can do right now but make myself reasonably comfortable in this lost space. We’ll meet with the doctor in two weeks to go over key learnings from my failed first cycle and then make a plan to move on. Financially I need to figure out what that will look like and how soon we can feasibly start round two with an FET.

I’ve run out of things to say when people who knew about the IVF ask how I am. I don’t have a new way to say, well, I’m kinda used to this. Or actually, sometimes my whole body hurts because I want a baby. Sometimes I’m really just going through the motions and maybe I always will be.

Even though I feel this way now, I’m cautiously optimistic to try again. Infertility is a complex web of emotions that demand to be felt. It’s lonely and scary. All-consuming. But I’ll keep doing it over and over again for the foreseeable future. I don’t have a choice, right?

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Image from The Refined Investor

The things I’ve lost

The last several months have been more difficult than I anticipated. In many ways, I feel like I’m losing my ongoing struggle with depression. The continuous push and pull is stressful and exhausting — both emotionally and physically. The physical symptoms of depression — the ones you see commercials about — suck all of my energy and I feel happiest when I am being still. Even then, that happiness is short-lived. I fidget constantly.

I don’t want to, but I consistently think about what I thought 2015 would look like when we started the year with good news. A baby would be born in December. My birthday, along with many members of my family, is that same month. It would be joyous. Early in my pregnancy my husband commented that December would be the best month ever — the arrival of our child and the new Star Wars movie?! Pure perfection for him. It was wonderful for me to see him look forward to something given that he’s often in much physical pain because of chronic back problems.

Now, December is a month I don’t want to start. I’d like to fast-forward it. Knowing that I can’t sometimes fills me with dread. If I have to turn the page in the calendar, I’d like nothing more than to just stay in bed with my dog, hiding under the covers. No birthday. No Christmas. Just leave me be.

Therapy, thankfully, has been tremendously helpful in reminding me that I did lose something I wanted desperately and it’s okay to be sad about that. There’s no timeline for that grief. The pain demands to be felt and I need to make peace with that. Life has thrown a lot at me and my loved one (in forms other than my infertility) and it’s okay to feel overwhelmed at times.

Overwhelmed has been my natural state over the last few months. When one more thing happens I ask how much more I can take. Jobs, cancers, money… it has been one thing on top of another. I desperately need something for the win column. My husband hates when I talk like this — from such a place of negativity. What he has a difficult time seeing, of course, is that many days when I search, I find literally nothing else. I am self-aware enough to know that it’s the depression taking over, but it can be impossible to explain to sometime who isn’t there mentally just how powerful it is. It’s a monster.

Next month I’ll have a second surgery for two unexplained “spots” in my uterus. I’m scared, of course, about what those spots could be. But the small part of me that is still capable of being hopeful is, because, perhaps, what’s found in me could explain my otherwise unexplained infertility. At the tail end of an awful year, a diagnosis can point me in the right direction. The 10 percent left of me that can be positive wants to believe this surgery can bring about some clarity.

For now, I’ll do my best to refocus. I’m waiting on some non-fertility-related news this week that, if positive, could nudge the dominos to fall.

One step forward, two steps back

It’s been just more than seven weeks since I miscarried and they’ve crawled by at a snail’s pace. I didn’t put any expectations on myself to feel better, physically or mentally, in any finite amount of time.

Emotionally some days are better than others. That’s often how grief works.

Physically has been a series of ant hills and mountains. Since I did not miscarry naturally, I assumed the recovery period would be pretty limited. My doctor, who also performed the surgery, told me to expect some heavy bleeding and cramping for a few days, and mentioned to be aware of fevers or other unexpected changes. After a little more than a week, I was feeling more like my pre-pregnancy self. I was tested to ensure that my hormone levels were dropping appropriately, and it was confirmed that they were. After another follow-up, my doctor cleared my husband and I to try again following my next period. She expected that I would see that unwanted, old friend again within about four weeks, perhaps six.

I’m not sure why I thought my body would adhere to the normal timeline — considering that my infertility is largely unexplained — but as I passed weeks four, five, and six without a period I wondered if things were okay. I was feeling fine physically, so what was going on? I consulted Dr. Google (which, really, why do I ever do that?) and fell down a Babycenter rabbit hole. More than two-thirds of the women posting in the thread about post-miscarriage menstruation said they’d actually discovered that they’d almost immediately gotten pregnant again. Reading this, of course, gave me some hope. I mean, this was a lot of women who said this happened.

I even took a pregnancy test on my husband’s birthday thinking wellll… Negative.

Every time I’m tempted to ask myself why not me?, I just stop. Because I’m not those other women. I really never am. None of this has gone my way. I’m more like the one woman who posted that she was 13 weeks post and her hormone levels were still high and no red in sight. Ugh.

This week, though, I’m bleeding like a stuck pig.

Asking why not me? always ends in tears and frustration. This hasn’t been easy. In fact, it sucks. Today I’m feeling a little tired of pretending that it doesn’t. There’s not a handbook for it. I’m writing my own.

Treating my whole self

I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for many years. Because of this, and the help I’ve asked for in getting through some of the most difficult times, I’ve been in therapy pretty consistently since I was 22 years old. I strongly believe that this, paired with a cocktail of antidepressants, have allowed me to be a (mostly) normal, functional human. They’ve also kept me from slipping farther into the black hole that depression can crate. In a lot of ways, a combination of therapy and medication has kept me alive.

Like with any subject, there are people on the other side of the fence that believe that depression and anxiety can be controlled without therapy or medication; some may even say that “it is all in your head.” I’m not here to change their minds.

One of the most challenging things about infertility is managing the flood of emotions that come with the highs and lows of the experience. I’m no stranger to recognizing my own triggers for depression and anxiety, so I’ve tried to stay on top of coping with my emotions. That is, of course, when I can even process them. Occasionally it feels like everything I’m feeling — particularly since my miscarriage — gets stuffed into a cheese cloth and then wrung out when I least expect it. At the height of some of my worst months of previous depression, the feeling was very much the same. Some of what is in the cheese cloth remains, but much is coming out in a steady stream of everything inside. It’s hard to plan for what often comes out unexpectedly.

This weekend The New York Times Magazine ran a piece that hit close to home — “The Secret Sadness of Pregnancy with Depression.” It’s a tremendous, eye-opening read that focuses on antenatal depression (depression while pregnant) and how serious of a condition this can be, particularly if left untreated.

The article comments:

“Though antenatal and postpartum depression are linked, antenatal depression has remained underground. Much of the stigma around maternal depression — antenatal and postpartum — seems to focus on women who fail at joy, often suggesting that such women are heartless. How can anyone not be swept up by the momentousness of producing a child who will give her life purpose? The myth of the pregnant mother who is high on hormones has had considerable staying power.”

The emotional needs of the soon-to-be mother are too often ignored and pushed aside. Even the healthiest of pregnancies is still an insane journey of physical and emotional stress on a woman.

This piece reminded me why I recently decided to find a new therapist and spend that hour a week examining everything that I’m feeling now, and have felt in these two-plus years of trying to conceive a baby. Returning to treatment means taking the bull by the horns and owning that what I’m going through is enormously stressful and emotional as hell. I’ve never been one to take for granted what it can mean to have a clear head, and I’m certainly not ashamed to say I need some help getting there.

On the seventh and twenty-seventh

On April 7th, the morning of my last post, I found out I was pregnant. I cried and laughed and cried. My husband and I celebrated and talked about names. The next few weeks were filled with telling our families the wonderful news and pinning nursery furniture to a private Pinterest board.

On April 27th, I found out I was no longer pregnant. I cried again. Going into our first pre-natal appointment that morning I was both nervous and excited. My biggest concern was that the doctor would say there was more than one heartbeat. While I knew (and know) that I would be incredibly blessed to have twins, the idea is still a bit scary. But our doctor didn’t say there was more than one heartbeat. In fact, there was none; there was just an empty sac. We left our ultrasound unsure of what would come next. There were two possible outcomes, following a blood draw… 1. That I simply wasn’t as far along as we thought (one day shy of seven weeks), despite having had IUI during my ovulation. Or 2. That the pregnancy wasn’t viable and I would miscarry.

I didn’t go back to work that day. I knew I wouldn’t be able to focus on writing about accounting or banking. The only thing on my mind would be that tiny seed-sized embryo that had a due date of my brother’s birthday — December 15th (eight days after my own).

That afternoon I received a call from my doctor with the news. One of the last conversations a woman ever wants to hear. My hormone levels hadn’t progressed in about a week and a half, and my pregnancy — my little Christmas baby — wasn’t viable.

Yesterday, I had a D&C surgery to expel the embryo from my body, as I hadn’t shown significant signs that I would miscarry naturally. It was one of the hardest days of my life, as I’m positive it is for any woman who has to physically have something so important taken from her too soon.

I’ve been through plenty of death — I unexpectedly lost my stepfather nearly four years ago to a heart attack — but nothing has ever felt quite like this pain. I think each loss in one’s life is a little different. This one has left a tightness in my chest and a hole in my heart. There’s nothing I ever wanted more in life than to be a mother. I still do, but this will always be a part of me.

After being rolled out of the OR and into recovery yesterday, I apparently told my doctor that the next time I came to that hospital it would be to have a baby.

Over the last few days it’s hard not to question a lot of things. I question why I haven’t gotten the job as mama yet when a woman across the country can give birth at work and then tie up her helpless child in a plastic bag like trash. But there will always people have what I would like and yet make horrifically awful, selfish decisions with what they’re given. Life will never be fair.

I know a few of you reading here have experienced this rollercoaster of emotion — from the day the second line on the stick appears, to the day you’re no longer with that joy — and some, even more than once. My heart breaks for you as it does for my own Christmas baby. Experiencing this more than once must be excruciating, and I have so much respect for those of you that have and continue to get out of bed in the morning. I’m not sure I could.

For now, my husband and I will grieve for our Christmas baby. Then, soon, we’ll continue to apply for the jobs we really want — of mama and daddy. Hopefully without a dampened spirit, and only enthusiasm for the day we again see two pink lines.